Obesity and Smoking

I’ve had this post written for a while, but I’ve been really nervous to post it because smoking is a sensitive subject and this is one of those posts that may pull us off topic or upset readers, but hear me out.  I often see people saying that obesity and smoking are the same thing – that being obese is the same thing as being a smoker.  There is a whole debate to be had about smoker’s rights, but that’s not the point of this blog (and if we could avoid a flame war about it in the comments that would be great). The point that I am trying to make is that the two are not comparable.  Let’s look at the arguments:

Smoking and Obesity are Both Addictions

This argument assumes that all obese people must be food addicts, which is simply not true. Obesity is just a ratio of weight and height. Smoking is an addictive behavior.  Statistically there will be a small percentage of obese people who have food addiction issues but that does not make all obese people addicts.  There are also some smokers (I know one personally) who can smoke or not and have no withdrawal issues but that doesn’t change the fact that most smokers are addicted.

They can both be changed through personal responsibility

It is not certainly not easy to quit smoking.  The failure rates for smoking and long term weight loss are actually similar – according to a CDC study 6.2% of smokers succeed at quitting.  About 5% of dieters are able to maintain weight loss long term (however many of those people did not start out as obese, or did not lose enough weight to change their BMI category).  The big difference here is that a smoker is healthier for every day they don’t smoke – even if they start smoking again.  Every time someone loses wight and gains it back they become less healthy because of the effects of weight cycling.

Smoking and Obesity Both Cause Health Problems

Again, the main problem with this argument lies in the confusion between a body size and a behavior.  Every smoker breathes in cigarette smoke. The carcinogens in that smoke have been shown to have a causal relationship with cancer.  That is not to say that all smokers will get cancer, but all smokers, well, smoke.  Which they are allowed to do, but it’s not the same as being obese.

The only thing that all obese people have in common is our height/weight ratio. There are vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore obese people.  There are obese people who exercise and those who don’t.  There are healthy and unhealthy obese people (and let’s be clear that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control).  Also obesity is correlated with many health issues, but causation has not been proven.

If you believe that obese people shouldn’t be policed by society then you have to believe that smokers shouldn’t be restricted or policed

This isn’t comparable.  By being near me, people are not forced to take part in my obesity – my obesity has no direct effect on them. Someone could stand beside me and they would not catch fat.  If someone is near a smoker, they are forced to take part in their smoking, at least until they can get away.  In the interest of full disclosure, this one hits home for me because I’m sensitive to cigarette  smoke – it causes me to have breathing difficulties.  Both of my parents smoked and I can remember feeling tortured in a car filled with smoke with my shirt over my mouth and so I have strong emotions around this.  But let me set aside those emotions and make this argument:

I do not care if people smoke.  I do not care what people do to their bodies.  You can drink your body weight in whiskey every day, you can smoke ten cartons a day, you can survive on a steady diet of McDonald’s french fries and milk (with a little oatmeal or you’ll die).  You are the boss of your underpants – I do not care what you do with your body.

When it comes to personal habits (as opposed to things that help the common good like mass transportation), my right to punch ends at the tip of someone else’s nose. Smoking doesn’t fit this mold.  I had to go to traffic court which required me to walk past a row of smokers.  I wasn’t able to hold my breath for long enough and so I was forced to participate in their habit which caused me to have difficulty breathing and increased my risk for cancer according to the National Cancer Institute.  You can argue about whether or not it is my right to not be exposed to smoke or someone else’s right to smoke, but the indisputable fact is that a row of fat people standing outside the court would have no such negative consequences on passersby and that makes them incomparable to smokers in this way.

You don’t like to breathe smoke and I don’t like to look at fat people, it’s the same thing

This is just asinine. One is an issue of aesthetics, the other is a health issue.  You can look the other way any time you want, but you can’t just breathe different air.

As I said, there are arguments on each side of the smoker’s rights debate, but that’s not the point of this blog.  The point I’m trying to make is that people should stop comparing obese people to smokers because it’s apples and oranges.  Obesity is no more like smoking than tallness is like smoking. If you want to make arguments about obesity or smoking you can do that, but comparing the two makes no sense.

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55 thoughts on “Obesity and Smoking

  1. I never knew that about the success rate of quitting smoking being so low. I never smoked in my life, never even tried it so it’s hard for me to understand the addiction of smoking and it’s been even harder for me after watching my adopted dad die from lung cancer last year. I miss him terribly and I’m sure he got into smoking during a time where the risks weren’t as well known as they are today but still, from what I could see, it’s not a fun way to go so it’s a struggle at times for me to understand why anyone would want to smoke.

    I can’t stand to be around smoke either and I’m almost positive my husband has some kind of lung issue due to being around a smoker for many years of his life (he has a chronic cough). The state of WI has done a lot to curb indoor smoking and smoking near entrances because of the health factors from being around smoke. And it’s not even the smoke itself that’s an issue, the RESIDUE from the smoke can cause problems. In others, the person doesn’t even have to be smoking at the moment to cause health issues in another person. So yes, I too have found it frustrating when I see obesity compared to smoking. What’s really a concern is that due to the fact that ceasing smoking can cause weight gain, some people choose to continue to smoke because they’re more afraid of the weight gain.

  2. I am a smoker. I am also obese. Nope, the two things aren’t the same. I hope to quit for good, but I’m definitely addicted to nicotine. I’m not addicted to food, or being obese.

  3. This one hits home. It’s when you learn how powerless you are as a child – when a mother who smokes 2 packs a day yells at you and shames you for being fat – with full approval from others in the vicinity.
    I still see in my mind’s eye her friends coming over and the air turning visibly white and smoky. Back then, cigarettes were very cheap and smokers were just as belligerent as they claim non-smokers can be today. Smokers refused to stop even for an hour and even when they were with someone who had bronchitis or asthma.
    If someone doesn’t like to look at fat people, he should just stay home and watch tv where he doesn’t have to see any. There’s more of us than there are of him (usually “him”, but could be “her”)..

  4. Well pointed out. What’s interesting is that not too long ago I read an article that suggested that quitting smoking could be a cause of weight gain, since apparently people who try to quit smoking replace the cravings for nicotine with food. But that is probably an entirely different topic. Needless to say, there are many differences between obesity and smoking. Obesity is not so simple.

    1. Smoking also acts as an appetite suppressant, so being a smoker can keep you at a lower weight than you’d otherwise be.

  5. I am ashamed to say that, before I came to social justice, I made this comparison. I am extremely heartened to say that, thanks to this blog and others, even my own writing on that analogy no longer makes any sense to me. So thanks!

  6. Very well made points.

    I am one person for whom size and smoking have been very much related for most of my life. I realised the futility of dieting as a young person, but smoked for a big chunk of my 20s, which meant I lost a lot of weight. When I stopped I gained back a lot more. Then after 10 years of not smoking and having a stable weight I smoked again for a few years and then stopped again – the same thing happened. More recently another big loss and then bigger gain were related to illness. It’s 12 years now since I smoked and I know I won’t do that again. And HAES expresses views I have held for a long time. But I am struggling a little with self-acceptance being a bit larger again than I was before. (I was approx 300 pounds before the last cycle, haven’t been on a scale since.) There was not much I could do about the illness, but if I say I wish I’d never smoked because it contributed to the size I am that still sounds pretty fat hating to me.

  7. I appreciate this post and don’t find it too controversial at all.

    Can we all just take a moment to appreciate this 6 year old pageant girl Alana?

    “This is what I show to the judges. Look at this big thing. They don’t know a good thing when they see it”. Bahahaha. God please don’t let these pageants change her!

  8. I quit smoking six years ago yesterday. I can’t seem to quit eating though! Imagine that!

    Nicotine does suppress your appetite and artificially inflates your metabolism. It’s not replacing cigarettes with food that causes weight gain, it’s chemistry. I gained some weight, sure. But I’d rather have the weight than the addiction, the bronchitis, and the smell. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    1. There is a compulsion to eat, however. Part of it is because the nicotine is no longer suppressing your appetite and the other is the compulsion to put something in your mouth.

      Which is why a lot of quitters chew gum or suck on candy like crazy.

  9. Second-hand smoke burns my eyes, makes my skin itch and makes it almost impossible for me to breathe – yet as you say, we are confronted with it every day with no choice to avoid it. Walking down the city streets to my work is an obstacle course of ‘hold my breath, gasp for air, hold my breath’. Certainly not good for my health or stress level. I am always infuriated when people compare smoking to obesity for all of the reasons you mentioned above. And I have actually had someone say to me “Can you not be fat?” when I have kindly asked them to refrain from smoking (at a location where smoking was prohibited – a public undercover bus stop with No Smoking signs plastered everywhere). It was either stand in the pouring rain during winter or put up with this person’s smoke.

    I had the same experience as a child in the car with my parents as you, and I always felt like a second-class citizen because my needs and health didn’t matter. Fat isn’t communicable and doesn’t infringe on the health of anyone. The effects of smoking, however, are something even non-smokers have to endure – no, they’re not comparable at all.

    1. Exactly!! I am not harming anyonwe by being fat. Smokers can’t say the same about their cigarette smoke!

  10. I rarely hear the comparison of smoking being like obesity. And I do get around. This blog article is however, not far from a comparison to smokers being unhealthy as is pointed out about fat people. I note all your padding around people’s right to smoke, the right to do with their bodies as they wish etc. yet you’re quite right to be nervous because it reeks not of smoke, but of shaming smokers, albeit in soggy cottonwool. Your discomfort at having to breathe in others’ smoke outside a courthouse is nothing compared to the discomfort of trying to give up smoking and being treated like a social pariah, despite (in my case) being a very well trained smoker who respects the space of non smokers. Throwing in a reference from The Cancer Institute is just as lame as someone throwing in a reference from The Heart Foundation about weight or quoting the First Lady on obesity. Saying you were “forced to participate in their habit” is just too precious for me. But yes, that is not what this blog is about.

    1. You could try to stop smoking, even though it’s hard (and it is hard, I’m not denying that). Those of us with allergies to smoke can’t stop being allergic. A few minutes of cigarette smoke has my throat swelling up and my eyes streaming. You’re right – it can’t be compared.

      1. Given that quitting smoking has the same success rate as long-term weight loss, telling someone to just try quitting is no different then telling someone to just try to get thinner

        1. Actually it is different – while the lowest studies show that the rates for quitting smoking are about the same as weight loss, the highest estimates show success at over 50%. Regardless, people are healthier for every day of their life that they don’t smoke but are not healthier for having dieting because of the health issues that come with dieting and weight cycling. Still, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to tell someone to quit smoking, I just don’t think they should be allowed to do it in public places where they are taking away my right not to smoke. I prefer laws like in Burbank where people not allowed to smoke anywhere except your own property – not in restaurants, bars, or on the street – that way they maintain their right to smoke and the other inhabitants of Burbank maintain their right not to.


    2. My mom smokes, and I’m allergic. I don’t have any desire to shame anybody for what they do with their own body, but I also don’t think they get to make decisions about my body. I think people should have every right to smoke in their car or their home. (I have mixed feelings about smoking in buisnesses more for the safety of the employees than the customers because a customer is free to leave or choose another restaurant/bar/whatever to patronize.) But I don’t think it’s appropriate to breathe smoke on people who don’t want to breathe it–even if they aren’t allergic, it does up their risk of lung cancer.

    3. I have to agree that the comparison between smokers rights and the rights of fat people are being too quickly dismissed.

      I don’t smoke or like cigarette smoke, and I do belive I have the right not to be subjected to people smoking in a public space as a valid health concern. And work-free environments are more and more prevalent (ours is one, and it’s a huge company compound). There are also many more smoke-free restaurants/bars (in Chicago, all of them), and I’m glad for it.

      However — the stigma around smoking is VERY similar to the stigma of obesity. There is a big difference between “your smoking rights end where my lungs begin” and “you must never ever smoke, anywhere”; in the latter case, the comparison is entirely valid in my opinion. There are companies and hospitals that will now not hire people who smoke -on their own time-, -outside of the workplace- (not near the building of employment, but -anywhere-), citing insurance expenses, poor self-control, etc… The smoking lobbies are advocating against it, arguing that the person’s civil liberties are being infringed for something they are doing -in their own place, on their own time-, whereas other high-risk behaviors (sky-diving, alcohol, and of course, by perception, obesity) are not being legislated. This is the first time I found myself completely agreeing with the tobacco lobbies. This is an extremely, extremely slippery slope, and if the right to smokers to chose for themselves is denied beyond a reasonable point, then there is not a doubt in my mind that mandatory dieting to “cure” us of fatness will follow in months.

      1. I totally agree with your last paragraph. What you do on your own time should be your own business. Companies’ concern about it health-wise, to me, is just an indication that health insurance needs to be separate from your job. Why should a company even have to think, “Wow, we’d love to hire Sally and she’s awesome, but our health insurance rates will go up if we hire another smoker.”?

    4. I am sensitive to smoke (makes me cough until I feel like I’m losing a lung) most of my friends who smoked stand so the wind takes the smoke away from me, most other smokers do not.

      I’ve had people deliberately sit right next to me as I was eating lunch outside (in an area with plenty of seating) and light up while I eat, then get offended if I almost throw up coughing.

      If people want to smoke that is fine, but a little consideration for those of us who don’t want to.

  11. “You can drink your body weight in whiskey every day, you can smoke ten cartons a day, you can survive on a steady diet of McDonald’s french fries and milk (with a little oatmeal or you’ll die). ”
    I don’t get that. Why would someone die, if they didn’t it oatmeal? Or does that mean something completely different? Is that an inside joke?

    1. because potatoes and milk is ALMOST a complete diet, giving you all the nutrients you need for life. but you have to have the oatmeal for the b vitamins or you get sick. thats why the potato famine wiped out Ireland.

  12. What is ironic is that now studies are trying to paint obesity/being fat as a contagious behavior. “They” (Big Pharma/Big Med/Big Diet) are trying so hard to conflate obesity and smoking. I note, however, that they have not yet come up with a anti-obesity mint.

    Some of us are allergic to smoke, and thus it is literally a life-and-death issue when someone lights up near us without permission. I do not know of any people who are allergic to obese or fat people, although the Med-Diet-Pharma complex is straining at the bit to try to prove otherwise.

    1. I’ve heard people go as far as to say that being obese is WORSE than smoking.

      But here’s what some people don’t seem to understand: A few days ago I wanted to buy some organic mango chunks. I only had a five but it was a very tiny bag (and they were only mango chunks!) so I assumed I had quite enough. I didn’t. The small bag cost almost ten dollars. For ten dollars you could get almost three ENTIRE MEALS at a fast food restaurant. Fast food is cheap and relatively good. If they want everyone to eat healthy make it LESS DAMN EXPENSIVE! GAAH!

  13. I have NEVER heard this line of reasoning, and I’ve lived in three countries over the past decade. In fact, I’ve heard just the opposite. In England, I lived across from a grammar school, and the scads of girls I saw walking home with a fag in their hand were legion. They did it to keep down the appetite urges. Hubby asked them, and that’s what they told him. It probably works.

    Secondly, smoking creates a physical addiction to nicotine, same triggering mechanism as alcoholics or drug addictions. The body develops a dependency on a drug it wouldn’t ordinarily encounter, and the behaviour follows…it’s two-headed.

    However, Ragen, it must bother you on some level that people smoke because one of your main rebuttals for “Your fatness raises my health care premiums” is “Well, I don’t smoke, but my money goes toward treating smokers…” It’s a valid argument, but it might not be entirely accurate to say you don’t care one whit if folks light up. Not trying to start a debate or give you a hard time…just seems like a minor discrepancy.

    1. Yorkie,

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I think it’s a misunderstanding. Yes, I’ve said that I don’t smoke and my taxes go toward treating smokers, and it’s true that they do. What I did not say was that I begrudge them that treatment. I have no problem with my tax dollars going to treat smokers, my argument was that our taxes go to treat all kinds of things that people do that we don’t do or that we think is unhealthy and that’s how it is.


      1. Exactly. And besides, research is showing that not only is there only a correlation between certain diseases and illnesses and fat, but that fat can help with recovery and survival. To me the health argument just doesn’t fly because there is a direct causation, as you mentioned, between cancer and other health problems and smoking. That’s just me though… and if remotely true could be said WAY better by Ragen 😀

  14. I do care if people smoke & I freely admit it. Fat people are fat mostlyb because of genes & we can be fat & perfectly healthy. I have never known a perfectly healthy smoker, though I have known more than a few who lived a lot longer than they had a right to expect. I am also sensitive to smoke & I had a sister whom I dearly loved, who was like a second mother to me, who would not go without a cigarette long enough to spend time with me. She was also fat, &, as she was dying of lung cancer caused by 3 packs per day for over 50 years, she observed somewhat bitterly that she had to be dying before she found a doctor who would tell her that being fat was a GOOD thing; her oncologist told her that she had lived at least 5-6 years longer than she would have had she been thin.

    It is well-demonstrated that there are numerous health benefits to being fat & fat is NOT a ‘behavior’ or a ‘lifestyle’. Yes, people have a right to smoke, but they do not have a right to smoke around me. They do not have a right to smoke in designated NO SMOKING areas.

    I live in Maine, a poor state with a small fulltime population (about 1.5 million of us). We have high levels of poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, incest, fairly high rates of illegal drug use, & one of the highest percentages of population of smokers of any state in the union. We have a lot of deaths from lung diseases, heart diseases, etc. Yet, we also have a large number of people who live beyond 90, no easy explanation there. I know one who drinks, smokes constantly, & is 87 years old, but she is the exception to the rule obviously. We also have a large population of fat people.

    I am enough of a libertarian that I do believe that how we live, how we treat our bodies, is our own business. However, I also do have strong feelings & emotional reactions about both smoking & alcoholism, because my life had been powerfully affected by those behaviors. My life has not been negatively affected by being fat or having a lot of fat relatives. And, no, I am not ‘infecting people with my fat’, nor am I shortening my life/endangering my health with the size of my body.

  15. i get really sick of people saying that obesity is an addiction. uh yea. last time i checked if ANYBODY stops eating for more than say 30 days they go through EXTREME withdrawal, ending in death. so yes im sorry im addicted to food.

  16. As a teacher or writing, I must note that smoking is a VERB and obesity is a NOUN. Conflating a behavior with a state of being is problematic.

    I’m amazed that so many people have never heard of this comparison; I hear it all the time. A number of government programs have even considered using anti-smoking tactics (see http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/411926_reducing_obesity.pdf for instance). How about Sharma comparing fat activists to smoking advocates (http://www.drsharma.ca/what-obesity-and-nicotine-addiction-do-have-in-common.html)? In fact, the Georgia ads are being compared to anti-smoking campaigns. Shaming has worked some with smoking (not that I approve of shaming EVER), but has the opposite effect with fat.

    As for the CDC statistics, I’ve seen as high as %50 have stopped smoking long term. The CDC is famous for conflating their statistics.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the grammatical perspective Lonnie! You are exactly right, in my research I did see higher rates of smoking success, I used the lowest figure for the sake of argument. I do agree that the CDC has not been great at giving us accurate information.


  17. I added you to my google reader. I found you via a link on a friend’s blog…you won me over with this, “You are the boss of your underpants” Thanks.

  18. Bottom line is that smoking is a conscious choice that a person makes, whereas genetically predetermined body size is not. Deciding to fight your natural body size is a choice, and not necessarily a healthy one, but we’ve all talked about that before. My mother is a smoker, and she loudly compares the laws against smoking in public to Jim Crow laws. She’s even announced that being a smoker is akin to being “a black person during slavery days”, I kid you not.

      1. If so, I’m very sorry; is there anything I can do for you? My mom at her most crazeballs can make Joan Crawford look like Kofi Annan.

  19. Ye Gods, Kris, that is abominable!! We are violating your mother’s rights by not allowing her to blow smoke in our faces?!! And to compare it to the nightmarish hell & unspeakable injustice of human beings being owned, bought, sold, beaten, etc??!! It boggles the mind, it truly does. Your mother is free to smoke all she likes & I seriously do not think she is being oppressed if she is not allowed to smoke in stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc.

    I absolutely believe in human rights & in ownership of one’s own body & life. I am incredibly fed up & pissed at this ‘nanny’ culture we live in & the attitude that we are all perpetual 2-year-olds who need someone to tell us how to live, eat, move, yadda, yadda. Sometimes I wish that I were young & strong enough & able-bodied enough to go live a substance lifestyle in Alaska. You absolutely have every right to smoke if you want to (my sister was addicted, I think tobacco was more important to her than food), certainly in your own home, car, etc. But I have every right not to want to follow in my mother’s footsteps, a woman who never smoked yet lived the last 30 years or so of her life with COPD, specifically emphysema, because she lived with my father, who smoked 3 packs per day, for 43 years. And I certainly have every right to privately wish that tobacco (& alcohol, I freely admit) could be wiped off the face of the earth. You don’t need to worry; it will never happen & objectively I would not wish it to because it would mean a stripping of human rights & open the door to other things, such as doing whatever fat haters deem ‘necessary’ to wipe fat people off the face of the earth too.

    1. Here’s the kicker: she’s made the “slavery” and “Jim Crow” comparisons to me repeatedly – and I’m multiracial. (African American, Irish, German, and a pinch of Native American.) To be fair; my mom is not exactly a paragon of unbiased, sane thinking: she’s prejudiced against Hispanics and Jews, yet thinks that having a mixed-race daughter proves she’s not a racist. She considers homosexuality to be a “mental handicap.” In addition to smoking, she abuses prescription drugs, drinks, and uses illegal drugs. When my ED finally landed me in the hospital years ago, she blew up my cell phone demanding that I get up out of the cardiac unit and transfer her some money.. The list goes on and on.

      The thing is, my mom has every right to be an addict, and it’s taken me a long time to get to grips with that. She’s smoked all her life, she says she enjoys it, and no one has the right to tell her not to. In the privacy of her own home, that’s true. She is the boss of her own underpants, even if she chooses to wear them on her head. What she doesn’t get it that she doesn’t get to put her underpants on other people. It’s one thing to smoke on her own, it’s another thing entirely to force others to smoke involuntarily around her.

      1. That is an amazing illustration of the underpants rule
        “She’s the boss of her own underpants, even if she chooses to wear them on her head… she doesn’t get to put her underpants on other people” That’s gold!

  20. It doesn’t help that it keeps being predicted that deaths from people being fat will overtake those of smoking or that fatness will reverse the life expectancy rates to the extent that it sounds like its as bad as smoking.

    This comparison will increase as ‘fat fighters’ wish to use the same techniques to attack fat people as they’ve used to attack smoking.

    They claim that as smoking rates have roughly halved since its heyday, that these techniques have been successful and they feel this can be replicated with bodies.

    You could see this line with the Atlanta campaign the word “warning” is used as if they are objects like cigarettes, booze or drugs. We are told that we are like smoking acceptance and so on.

    I personally think nicotine addiction is a fiction a kindness to spare some smokers embarrassment that they cannot stop due to duress. Something that some fat people also think will work for them. Neither it nor alcohol dependence have the same biological basis as opiate addiction.

    Our bodies produce natural opiates in order for us to function. When they are taken in addition to that production falls in response-to stop overdose, this is the physiological basis of (proper) addiction.

    Alcoholism has more overlap with compulsive eating-also not an addiction- one trigger of an eating compulsion is the aftermath of calorie and dietary restriction. Tara Parker Pope’s article referred to the biology of it in her article raised appetite and hunger.

    It’s similar to what a lot of people experience as rebound, except it is continuous rather than just until their weight is regained.

  21. Obviously, I meant that I sometimes wish I could live a subsistence lifestyle, I already live a life of substance. Ah, those typos!

  22. I’m so glad you addressed this, Ragen.

    Just the other day I posted an article on facebook criticizing the Georgia fat kid shaming ads and a friend of a friend who is a smoker commented. Though she didn’t say it overtly, she pretty much equated my (and every other fat person’s) “choice” to be obese with her choice to smoke. I believe she said something to the affect of she knows she is taking 10 years off her life and isn’t afraid to admit it. I have to say I was pretty offended. As though fat people refusing to engage in fat shaming are just “making excuses” for our fatness. I think I responded well. I try to be kind when addressing these topics while still being straight forward, but it irked me.

    The thing is I read your blog regularly (duh, cause it’s awesome) and I’ve read Health at Every Size many times, and I read many of the journal articles you post and so I consider myself pretty well educated about the health of fat people. And the fact that she, someone who, I am sure, has done little research, if any, on the subject, could equate my fatness to smoking was just… well it was bold.

    I make a point to surround myself with people who believe in my ability to be healthy and fat, and to have this person so disconnected from my life try to inform me of my “choice” to be “unhealthy…” I know I shouldn’t be surprised. But I was. I would never presume to make judgments about someone’s health, unless I intimately knew their habits, and even then, I would only make my opinions known if explicitly asked.

    And all I am asking from her, and the world, is the same courtesy (as you might say, boss of my own underpants etc.). And even though I try to be all savvy about this kind of jazz, it was still shocking to me. And pretty hurtful.

    Anyway, I appreciate everything you do and say.


  23. Smoking is not the same as being fat. It never has been nor will ever be. I am fat and I smoke (well I did before I quit 3 days ago).

    I know many smokers are not considerate of other people. I believe that is mainly because our society is all about me, me, me, me, not because they are smokers.I am a pretty considerate smoker. I try really hard to stay away from doorways, or any place that other people have to go by.

    I am ashamed to be a smoker. I feel less of a person for doing so. My fiance’s mom died from diabetes complications and smoking. I have both issues. He doesn’t smoke but nags me all the time for doing so. I smoke outside and a way from him.

    I realize that non smokers have smoke around them when they don’t smoke.My father smoked in the house and vehicles when I was an asthmatic child.

    But I also understand, whether physical or mental, being addicted to smoking. I can understand feeling like you are going to go crazy unless you have a cigarette.

    There is a compromise between smoking in public and not smoking in public. I would gladly walk away from the building and people, to a place specified for smokers, especially if it was an enclosure to get away from the wind or snow/rain. But places don’t do that because it costs more money.

    Anyway, the point of the blog was to say that there is a difference between smoking and obesity. There is. Point closed.

  24. Yeah I’ve heard the obesity = smoking thing a lot and it doesn’t make sense at all no matter which way you look at it. It’s just stupid and makes so many silly, false assumptions about fatness.

    Smoking is something that directly impacts on the health and wellbeing of the people around the smoker. I personally am of the belief that smokers only have the right to light up in places where they are guaranteed not to be blowing smoke within lung’s reach of anyone else. These places are few. Outside in a public space? Unless said space is totally deserted, forget it. Somebody at some point is gonna have to breathe that shit in, and that’s not on. Your home, when people are there who may not have the option to leave, like young children? Also forget it. It might be your home, but those people’s lungs are not yours and you don’t have the right to smoke around them. Etc Etc.

  25. I have to agree with “Lionheart,” who reminds us not to shame smokers. S/he says, <>

    Now, I personally abhor being around cigarette smoke. It irritates my lungs; I have asthma that rarely flares up except around smoke—and that’s smoke of all kinds, including fireplace smoke and especially marijuana smoke, even though I totally support people’s right to smoke marijuana. Smoke gives me a headache, makes my clothes smell, and affects my mood; if I’m around smoke for too long, I actually start to feel anxious and claustrophobic.

    HOWEVER (and I’m saying this, Ragen, even though you know I think almost everything you say absolutely ROCKS, and you are totally my hero), like “Lionheart,” I think this comment is more than a little reminiscent of the scare tactics used by those who cite wildly exaggerated statistics about mortality and obesity: <> If you had said instead, “I have to work next to a row of smokers,” or even, “I have to walk past a row of smokers every couple of hours,” the cancer reference would have made sense. And your having had to grow up with smoking parents almost certainly increased your chances of developing a lung-related disease. But, tell me, do you honestly want to start claiming things like spending 30 seconds walking past smokers is going to increase your risk for cancer? I’m afraid that smacks to me of the kind of overstated “science” we’re trying to avoid in the HAES movement.

    By the way, I find it surprising that the CDC’s percentage on successfully quitting smoking is close to that of weight loss retention, since I know literally hundreds of people who have quit smoking for 10, 20, even 50 years, but I can’t think of a single person among my thousands of acquaintances who has lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for that long. I wonder how the CDC came to that number. I’ve frequently read what “wriggles” writes about, that smoking rates have roughly halved since its heyday, for who knows what reason (I’m betting not due to shaming.) But of course, as the HAES movement has helped me learn to do, I try to refrain from believing everything I see or read.

    1. Hi Ninafel,

      I just want to restate what I said in the blog, that I have no judgment about what people do to their own bodies. But I respect the right to protect and make choices for mine. To speak to your concern about overstated science, the National Cancer Institute has stated that there is “no safe level of second hand smoke exposure”, and even though I only had to go into traffic court once through the row of smokers, the people who work there do have to pass them at least twice a day, and each of those 30 second encounters adds up over time. The difference here is that the science about obesity applies to the obese – if I think that the science about obesity is overstated and choose not to believe it, I risk my own health if I am wrong. Smokers who think that the science about second hand smoke is overstated are risking the health of others. That’s just another way that obesity and smoking are different.

      As to the stats on quitting, in my research I saw stats as high as 50%, I used the lowest figure to give the greatest benefit of the doubt.


  26. I’m late to this conversation, but as a super-morbidly obese woman and a former smoker, I feel sorta kinda maybe qualified to add my 2 cents’ worth here. I started smoking in high school, back in the late 60s, and quit because my friends smoked more of my cigarettes than I did. I started up again in the late 70s, quit again in the early 80s, started again in the late 80s, and finally quit for good about ’94 or ’95 (I would light up, put the cigarette in an ashtray, get busy, and the damned thing would burn down to ashes). I never smoked more than a carton a month, and about the time that cigarettes went up to $25 a carton, I decided I should quit – I had better places to spend that money (like on books, I’m an avid bookworm). I quit when I finished my last pack and haven’t looked back, haven’t wanted another one, haven’t missed them, and at this late date, will probably never smoke again (I don’t like the smell anymore, and the smoke irritates my eyes when I’m around friends who smoke). Cigarettes were never an addiction for me, they were more like something to do with my hands when I was out drinking with friends, or at parties and got bored, etc. I could, and did, go hours without smoking and it didn’t bother me one bit.
    I can’t say I’m addicted to food either – there are times I get busy and forget to eat. I’ve dieted in the past – that’s how I got to the weight I am now (it’s also why I don’t diet anymore). There are some foods I prefer over others, but it doesn’t bother me to eat the same things day after day (I don’t get bored with a limited variety). If I didn’t have a husband to cook for, who likes to have different things all the time, I’d probably have the same 5 or 6 meals most of the time (I hate to cook). For me, food is fuel to keep my body going, and that’s about it.

  27. Well Im both,Im a fatty and I smoke. And while I do agree with your points,as usual. I have to add a small extra. Smoking is a choice,yes.
    But no one ever bothers to ask why you started,they like to assume peer preasure,to look cool,etc etc. Ive been told Im an idiot many times. For smoking. Along with being told to go eat more twinkies.(Can we sue whoever came up with fat=twinkie hoarder?) My point is I started smoking,because I wanted to hurt myself with it and maybe even kill myself. I was at my lowest point then. I wanted to die.
    So I suppose my point is,usually when someone holds onto a vice,they have a reason for it and dont care about what it will do to them(or welcome it in my case.)
    Anyone who equates this to your body weight/size is total twit. Honestly,do people just get more stupid every day?
    I’ll tell you what the real epidemic is,ignorance.

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